Celebrating diversity at James Monroe High School

Celebrating diversity at James Monroe High School

• May 2, 2014

Last week at Monroe, students and teachers were asked to consider what racism looks like in everyday life. Is it acting as if you are smarter than someone because of their race? Making fun of someone because of the color of their skin? Laughing at someone because they speak differently than you do because they come from a different country?

These questions were part of a larger nation-wide project called Stand Against Racism that works towards ending racism, and instead celebrating and embracing human diversity.

Monroe’s Stand Against Racism event took place Thursday, April 24th and Friday, April 25th with help from AmeriCorps members currently working at Monroe, and was greatly supported by Principal Armando Ramirez, along with students and staff. The Stand encourages people to think and talk about the often taboo subject of race. This idea was initially proposed by AmeriCorps member Beth Russell who had previous experience with this event through the YWCA of Rochester. This year the YWCA of Rochester ranked second in the nation for the number of groups recruited to make their own Stand Against Racism.

At Monroe’s Stand, hundreds of students and staff alike showed their support by leaving a lasting mark on a canvas sign labeled “Celebrate Diversity” (made by students in Dwight Robinson’s art class). Participants signed their names, put down their place of origin, left thumb prints in ink, or did all three. Students could be seen donning multiple orange “Racism Hurts Everyone” stickers, and wearing Stand Against Racism wristbands. Many students are still wearing their wristbands even today, a week after the event.

The plan is to continue efforts to celebrate diversity every day, and to hold the event again next year with an even more successful outcome – that it is okay to talk about race, and that we need to talk about race in order to build stronger communities throughout the District.

To deepen my understanding of the Stand, I spoke with Assistant Principal and veteran Social Studies teacher Thomas Pappas. In

his first year at Monroe, a school with a large Latino population, Pappas has worked to build his own multicultural bridges by brushing up on his Spanish to better communicate with students and parents.  Pappas explained why events like this can be energizing:

Nurturing curiosity is what I like best about my work in education, and that should include curiosity about race and culture as well. I don’t believe asking people to be “colorblind” is either feasible or very interesting: it shouldn’t be hard to celebrate diversity. I know from experience it brings joy and exercise for the mind. Many of us feel trapped in an endless cycle of conversations that devolve into “you don’t, can’t or won’t understand.”

I wholly agree with Pappas that approaching race and ethnicity by practicing “colorblindness”—especially at schools like Monroe—is a fruitless and counter productive exercise.  Instead, when communities come together like this, all can learn to see the beauty of rainbows.

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About The Author


Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


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